Modern safekeeping for ancient culture

23 May 2019

Mimal Land Management is turning to cutting-edge technology to keep its ancient stories and cultural information safe and accessible for future generations.

Mimal is setting up a new cultural heritage management system that allows digital materials, including documents, data, photos and video, to be recorded, collected and managed online.

The team are working with the system’s designer Environmental Systems Solutions’ Glen MacLaren.

Mr MacLaren has been working with Indigenous groups around Australia as they look for digital solutions to managing and storing different information.

“These management systems are digital keeping places, and they can also be used for planning activities and reporting on the outcomes achieved,” Mr MacLaren said.

“Indigenous groups use these systems in a myriad of ways.”

“The systems can be used to record traditional knowledge of seasons, plants and animals and help to manage country by keeping track of weed, feral animal and fire programs.

“They’re used for sharing stories and language with school children and community members and for the safekeeping of precious photos and videos.”

Mimal is focused on using the system to create a detailed record of rock art and cultural sites on its land, which is part of a collaborative survey project the team are conducting with Flinders University archaeologist Dr Daryl Wesley and Mimal Rock Art project officer Peter Cooke.

Mr Cooke says the system is broad and flexible, allowing for a range of scientific and cultural information to be recorded.

2019 rock art survey team
The 2018 rock art survey team at Korbbolyu outstation

“The system allows us to input archaeological and scientific information the team collects at sites using survey data sheets, observations, GPS coordinates and photos,” Mr Cooke said.

“Importantly, through the increasing media skills the women rangers are developing, we can record and add the knowledge of elders both in the field and later at Weemol as the survey imagery is reviewed.

“Further interpretative information can be added at any time.

“Once in the system, the data can be used to create reports that analyse larger sets of information, and to assist Mimal rangers and landowners to plan and manage their cultural sites.

“A particular strength of the system is the navigation interface which integrates map displays and database search systems.”

The Mimal Women Rangers are leading the management of the system and last week undertook a three-day training workshop.

“The idea of a content management system automatically sounds complex and a huge undertaking,” said ranger coordinator Julia Salt.

“But once we started working with it, it was logical to understand and it was actually fun to use.

“Importantly, we all see how important this system is for now and the future.”

The women rangers also growing their media skills and are taking photos, and recording and editing video so they can document activities, stories and language.

They’ll be putting all those skills to work during a rock art survey to be held during the dry season.

“Mimal is one of a number of indigenous organisations that have started developing their own citizen science approach to rock art,” said Mr Cooke.

“Many groups are frustrated by the failure of academic institutions and individuals to find ways to effectively share their survey data, especially photographs, with the people whose ancestors created the much prized images on sandstone.

“At the core of our collaboration between our landowners, rangers and Dr Wesley and Flinders is a mutual commitment to ensuring landowners have effective access to research material and that they retain ultimate control over the way in which images are used for academic research.

“The management system provides the means to effect landowner access - once the information is entered in the system, it becomes an accessible resource for the community.

“Dalabon and Rembarrnga people will be able to watch videos, look at photos and read stories of their families or find out more about places on their country - all from their phone, or a computer or they can come into the ranger office.

“It’s a way for the community to be able to access a rich variety of information, and it will be at their fingertips.”

Women rangers Tarlisha and Evelyn setting up for filming